How does one say
"double-dealing" in Chinese? Last weekend,
Chinese assistant foreign minister Cui Tiankai visited Teheran for
the ostensible purpose of expressing concern over Iran's
announcement that it is enriching uranium. But Minister Cui's
mission was more likely designed to bolster China's security
relationship with Iran.
On April 13, the
day before Cui departed for Iran, the Chinese Communist Party's
official mouthpiece, People's Daily, published a commentary
that asserted "the real intention behind the US fueling the Iran
issue is to prompt the UN to impose sanctions against Iran, and to
pave the way for a regime change in that country. The US's global
strategy and its Iran policy emanate out of its decision to use
various means, including military means, to change the Iranian
Also on April 15, China's Xinhua news agency announced that Iran
had been invited to join the "Shanghai Cooperation Organization,"
China's trade and military alliance framework with Russia and its
Central Asian neighbors.
China's purpose is to undermine any leverage the international
community may have over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The visit of
Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao to Washington
this week is an ideal forum for President George W. Bush to
confront his Chinese counterpart on this issue. If he does not,
there is little hope of walking Iran back from the brink.
relationship with Iran is broad. Despite over a decade of protests
from Washington, China continues to export nuclear technology,
chemical weapons precursors, and guided missiles to Iran. Indeed,
China is one of Iran's top two weapons suppliers (with Russia). A
report in 2004 by the U.S.-China Security and Review Commission
stated that "Chinese entities continue to assist Iran with dual-use
missile-related items, raw materials and chemical weapons-related
production equipment and technology" and noted that the transfers
took place after the Chinese government pledged in December 2003 to
withhold missile technology Iran.
The Central Intelligence Agency reported in 2004 that "Chinese
entities are continuing work on a zirconium production facility at
Esfahan that will enable Iran to produce cladding for reactor
fuel." Although Iran was a signatory to the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty and was required to accept International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on its production of
zirconium fuel cladding, Iran made no moves to do so, and China
exerted no influence to the contrary.
In November 2004,
as concerns grew that Iran was misusing its civilian nuclear power
program to support weapons development, one senior Iranian official
insisted that China was "against referral of the Iranian issue to
the Security Council," where Iran could face economic sanctions,
and instead wanted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to
retain "responsibility" for the matter.
On August 10, 2005, the day that Iran broke IAEA seals at a uranium
plant, China's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters, "I
think it is up to [the IAEA in] Vienna to come up with a solution.
I think it is not up to the Security Council." Anyway, "the Council
has too many things on the table," he added. "Why should we have
Iran continued to
remove its uranium enrichment plants from IAEA oversight. On
January 10, 2006, Iran finally removed the last remaining IAEA
seals from its nuclear enrichment laboratories. The day before,
Iran's deputy foreign minister met with the Chinese foreign
minister in Beijing to brief him "about the views and
considerations of the Iranian side." As one Washington commentator
put it, "in other words, Tehran cleared its action with Beijing."
This might explain why China sought, and managed, to water down
subsequent IAEA language censuring Iran. Said one western official
in dry diplomatic understatement, "Technically, China is being
negotiators had been working fruitlessly with Iran for months, and
finally, in frustration, pressured China's IAEA delegation to do
something. As usual, China did the least possible. On January 30,
it negotiated a very weak statement on Iran. That statement agreed
that the IAEA could "report" the matter to the UN Security Council
on February 6 but that no action would be taken in the Council
until March. Then, on March 20, the Chinese suggested referring the
matter back to the IAEA for a further "report" to be completed in
four -to six weeks. On March 29, 2006, China and Russia agreed to a
nonbinding UN Security Council "statement" calling on Iran to
suspend its nuclear program within 30 days-that is, until after
Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington-but rejected any
language that might imply they would ever approve sanctions. Even
if Iran fails to stop uranium enrichment by April 28, China would
likely threaten to veto any UN sanctions, and without sanctions,
Iran has little incentive to negotiate the dismantlement of its
nuclear weapons program. China now serves as Iran's primary
appear grounded in a strategic calculation that an alignment with
Iran is in Chinese interests. In April 2002, shortly after
President Bush labeled Iran as a charter member of the "Axis of
Evil," Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Teheran and conveyed
the message that China and Iran hope to "prevent domination of a
superpower on the entire world," according to the Iranian press.
"The two countries believe that for as long as a united and a
comprehensive definition of 'terrorism' is not offered which can be
endorsed by the international organizations, no state can attack
other countries under the pretext of fighting terrorism and on the
basis of its own definition of the term," reported Iran's
state-controlled media. The Iranian press reported that "some
political observers" saw the "visit of China's president to Iran in
the new century . . . as the undeclared coalition of the two sides
against America." In Tehran, Jiang declared that China's policy was
"to oppose American deployments in Central Asia and the Middle
East." He also pledged that "one of China's most important
diplomatic missions is to strengthen unity and cooperation with
developing countries and to avoid having developing countries
become the targets of American military attacks."
Administration and Congress Should Do
In a September
2005 speech, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick asked, "For
the United States and the world, the essential question is, how
will China use its influence?"
For all practical
purposes, the answer is clear: China's influence is destabilizing
the international nonproliferation system. It has protected North
Korea for decades, and now Chinese diplomacy protects Iran from the
punitive sanctions that have been essential to the enforcement of
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty against other countries, such
as South Africa and Libya.
Administration should cease pretending that China's involvement in
Iranian nuclear weapons negotiations has been constructive and
publicly question China's motives. It should confront Beijing's
subtle but substantial support for Iranian nuclear weapons,
advanced conventional weapons, and other security programs. Public
statements of disappointment over China's support for North Korea
and Iran's nuclear ambitions would help clear the air and deny
China diplomatic leverage. But as long as China can appear to be a
"constructive" participant in resolving the crisis, China can claim
to be an "honest broker" between the U.S. and nuclear pariahs.
This message must
be loud and clear and public-at the United Nations, at the IAEA,
during the semi-annual "strategic senior dialogues" between Deputy
Secretary Zoellick and his Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo,
and above all, at the summit between President George Bush and
Chinese president Hu Jintao this week.
Tkacik, Jr., is Senior Research Fellow in China Policy in the
Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.